Elvis The What?

By Bryan R. GruszkaApr 16, 2000
Elvis The What?
NOTE: This article was originally written in September, 1998 after Elvis the Concert's August U.S. tour. Since then, of course, the show has toured Europe and was reasonably successful, yet press coverage and audience attendance varied greatly, from a sellout crowd in London to barely 1/3 full houses in Germany. Thus, the main gist of the argument still applies. However, the article has been slightly altered to update it to the present day. Wouldn't it be funny if Elvis came back and nobody knew it? That's the feeling I got after the recent outings of "Elvis the Concert" in March , and particularly after the closing of the U.S. tour in August. While the production is fantastic, the technology befitting an artist of Elvis' magnitude, and the audience reception has been as if Elvis were truly returned, the concerts have left me more disappointed than happy, particularly when I think of the fact that this show is the one thing that Graceland has done in all the years that Elvis has been dead that actually gives Elvis the spotlight and lets him promote himself. The promotion for the show has been extremely weak, particularly on the August tour which was especially anemic, and has marked a major, major missed opportunity to turn new fans and even critics on to Elvis. When Elvis in Concert 97 premiered at the Midsouth coliseum in August of 1997, it was truly a moment that I, and I'm sure a lot of other Elvis fans were waiting for. For many years I had been saying (to myself mainly) that the best way for people to get an appreciation of Elvis the musician and performer was to have Elvis (via video) actually "perform" again. My thoughts were specifically along the lines of a recreation of a famous concert, like the Aloha, complete with all the original band members, the backup singers and everything else. With Elvis in Concert, I actually got exactly what I had hoped for, and by all accounts, it was truly spectacular. Elvis, once again, sold out the Midsouth Coliseum, and not only that, he broke the all-time gate gross record for the MidSouth - exactly the type of performance that Elvis would have given during his lifetime, and exactly what should be done for him now that he is gone. Needless to say, when I heard the news of the March tour, I was truly excited. Now Elvis fans and others around the country would finally get to see an Elvis free from the burdens of other peoples' interpretations of him. In other words, Elvis would "speak" for himself, and the magic of Elvis in concert would be able to be experienced without bias. However, as with all things that Graceland puts on, I had an uneasy feeling to go along with my elation. Would the concerts sell out? Would Graceland publicize this like it should be publicized, or would they, as is their usual habit with Elvis Week, be late with the brochures, be unsure of their facts, and generally be low key about the whole thing? Finally, and most importantly, would people like it? The answer to the last question, at least, was a resounding "yes", which shows that the concept is a sound one. During the weeks leading up to the March tour, I was anxious to see what kind of publicity Graceland would sponsor for the event and also to see how the event would be received. As far as a receiving part goes, I needn't have worried. The reviews, with the exception of a rather sarcastic review from Pittsburgh, were all extremely positive, with headlines and text proclaiming the virtual return of the king and praising the slickness and polish of the concert. To be honest, the praise of the critics was actually more than I expected, especially in New York City, where the concert sold out three nights in a row at Radio City Music Hall. New York is a tough entertainment town, and the New York critics, particularly those at the New York Times, have always been rather cool towards Elvis, yet even they had nice things to say about the show. Additionally, the publicity for New York was very well done, with a special logo designed for the show on Radio City Music Hall's Web page, and Elvis on the front page of the New York Post. The story of the concerts in Radio City was also shown on all the national news, and even on local Chicago news, which was great to behold. The manager of Radio City also stated that they wanted Elvis back in the fall, another sign of the show's success. Other cities on the tour also had previews of the concert. In Cleveland, a show which I attended, the local papers ran interviews with Elvis' band members and with the Sweet Inspirations, and generally spoke with some real anticipation of the upcoming show. Evansville, Indiana, ran regular ads on the radio and also featured Elvis on the front page of their entertainment section, and on the front cover of a special magazine that announced upcoming events in the Evansville area. While some cities did not sell out, the show saw, both critically and financially, a great success, despite the lack of overwhelming publicity that one has come to expect from concert events nowadays. It was this success that prompted EPE to try the tour again inAugust, and that's where it all went wrong. The August tour started out sounding promising enough: A return engagement to the Las Vegas Hilton, site of many, many concerts and box office records for Elvis, another three shows at Radio City Music Hall, an extended tour of large cities, including Cincinnati and Chicago, and a return to Market Square Arena, the site of Elvis' final concert on June 26, 1977. All the initial makings of a tour that could Elvis back on the map as a viable touring artist once again. However, this time, the publicity needed to get the word out just wasn't there, and as a result, half of the tour was canceled, and the other half played to houses less than half full, a "comeback" tour hardly befitting the King, and one that was a far cry from the well publicized, consistently sold out tours Elvis went on when he was alive. Speaking specifically of the Chicago promotion experience, and having been in constant contact with the promoter of the event, I can accurately say that publicity was almost non-existent. And since the same procedure for promotion was followed in all cities on the tour, I am assuming that similar things happened in other areas. I also attended concerts in Las Vegas and Indianapolis and, Vegas aside, the results seemed to be the same. And this brings me to my central point. Elvis, in case anyone hasn't noticed, is dead. Therefore, it is now up to others to promote him, and since promotion is all about creating excitement about something, it doesn't help matters when those doing the promoting are either unenthusiastic about the whole idea, have no firm ideas about how to go about it, or do not have the proper funds allocated to effectively get, as the Colonel would say, "good saturation." To make the point really simple, there was absolutely no excitement created about an event which, by any stretch of the imagination, is one of the most monumental entertainment ideas in recent memory. After all, it's not every day that Elvis really does come back. The publicity angles for Elvis the Concert are endless. For example, the technology angle could be stressed - "Technology has finally caught up with the King", "Elvis uses technology to make history again", "In 1973, Elvis came to the world by satellite, in 1998 he'll be there in person" and other such headlines are not beyond the realm of possibility. I have heard little mention of what a technological marvel this really is. For instance, why no articles in science and technology magazines on the creation of Elvis' portion of the show? After all, it did take 20 years for the technology to advance sufficiently for this to occur. Another angle that could be used, and I think very simply, would be the "Elvis is back" one. While this phrase has been used and abused in past
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